Food additive

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The different forms of emulsifier lecithin - powder, two different concentration liquids, granular and powder lecithin Lecithin-Formulierungen.jpg
The different forms of emulsifier lecithin – powder, two different concentration liquids, granular and powder lecithin

Food additives are substances added to food to preserve flavor or enhance its taste, appearance, or other qualities. Some additives have been used for centuries; for example, preserving food by pickling (with vinegar), salting, as with bacon, preserving sweets or using sulfur dioxide as with wines. With the advent of processed foods in the second half of the twentieth century, many more additives have been introduced, of both natural and artificial origin. Food additives also include substances that may be introduced to food indirectly (called "indirect additives") in the manufacturing process, through packaging, or during storage or transport. [1] [2]



To regulate these additives and inform consumers, each additive is assigned a unique number called an "E number", which is used in Europe for all approved additives. This numbering scheme has now been adopted and extended by the Codex Alimentarius Commission to internationally identify all additives, [3] regardless of whether they are approved for use.

E numbers are all prefixed by "E", but countries outside Europe use only the number, whether the additive is approved in Europe or not. For example, acetic acid is written as E260 on products sold in Europe, but is simply known as additive 260 in some countries. Additive 103, alkannin, is not approved for use in Europe so does not have an E number, although it is approved for use in Australia and New Zealand. Since 1987, Australia has had an approved system of labelling for additives in packaged foods. Each food additive has to be named or numbered. The numbers are the same as in Europe, but without the prefix "E".

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists these items as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS); [4] they are listed under both their Chemical Abstracts Service number and FDA regulation under the United States Code of Federal Regulations.


Food additives can be divided into several groups, although there is some overlap because some additives exert more than one effect. For example, salt is both a preservative as well as a flavor. [5] [1]

Acidulants confer sour or acid taste. Common acidulents include vinegar, citric acid, tartaric acid, malic acid, fumaric acid, and lactic acid.
Acidity regulators
Acidity regulators are used for controlling the pH of foods for stability or to affect activity of enzymes.
Anticaking agents
Anticaking agents keep powders such as milk powder from caking or sticking.
Antifoaming and foaming agents
Antifoaming agents reduce or prevent foaming in foods. Foaming agents do the reverse.
Antioxidants such as vitamin C are preservatives by inhibiting the degradation of food by oxygen.

Bulking agents
Bulking agents such as starch are additives that increase the bulk of a food without affecting its taste.
Food coloring
Colorings are added to food to replace colors lost during preparation or to make food look more attractive.
Fortifying agents
Vitamins, minerals, and dietary supplements to increase the nutritional value
Color retention agents
In contrast to colorings, color retention agents are used to preserve a food's existing color.
Emulsifiers allow water and oils to remain mixed together in an emulsion, as in mayonnaise, ice cream, and homogenized milk.
Flavors are additives that give food a particular taste or smell, and may be derived from natural ingredients or created artificially.
Flavor enhancers
Flavor enhancers enhance a food's existing flavors. A popular example is monosodium glutamate. Some flavor enhancers have their own flavors that are independent of the food.
Flour treatment agents
Flour treatment agents are added to flour to improve its color or its use in baking.
Glazing agents
Glazing agents provide a shiny appearance or protective coating to foods.
Humectants prevent foods from drying out.
Tracer gas
Tracer gas allow for package integrity testing to prevent foods from being exposed to atmosphere, thus guaranteeing shelf life.
Preservatives prevent or inhibit spoilage of food due to fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms.
Stabilizers, thickeners and gelling agents, like agar or pectin (used in jam for example) give foods a firmer texture. While they are not true emulsifiers, they help to stabilize emulsions.
Sweeteners are added to foods for flavoring. Sweeteners other than sugar are added to keep the food energy (calories) low, or because they have beneficial effects regarding diabetes mellitus, tooth decay, or diarrhea.
Thickening agents are substances which, when added to the mixture, increase its viscosity without substantially modifying its other properties.
Bisphenols, phthalates, and perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs) are indirect additives used in manufacturing or packaging. In July 2018 the American Academy of Pediatrics called for more careful study of those three substances, along with nitrates and food coloring, as they might harm children during development. [6]

Safety and regulation

With the increasing use of processed foods since the 19th century, food additives are more widely used. Many countries regulate their use. For example, boric acid was widely used as a food preservative from the 1870s to the 1920s, [7] [8] but was banned after World War I due to its toxicity, as demonstrated in animal and human studies. During World War II, the urgent need for cheap, available food preservatives led to it being used again, but it was finally banned in the 1950s. [7] Such cases led to a general mistrust of food additives, and an application of the precautionary principle led to the conclusion that only additives that are known to be safe should be used in foods. In the United States, this led to the adoption of the Delaney clause, an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, stating that no carcinogenic substances may be used as food additives. However, after the banning of cyclamates in the United States and Britain in 1969, saccharin, the only remaining legal artificial sweetener at the time, was found to cause cancer in rats. Widespread public outcry in the United States, partly communicated to Congress by postage-paid postcards supplied in the packaging of sweetened soft drinks, led to the retention of saccharin, despite its violation of the Delaney clause. [9] However, in 2000, saccharin was found to be carcinogenic in rats due only to their unique urine chemistry. [10] [11]


Periodically, concerns have been expressed about a linkage between additives and hyperactivity, [12] however "no clear evidence of ADHD was provided". [13]

In 2007, Food Standards Australia New Zealand published an official shoppers' guidance with which the concerns of food additives and their labeling are mediated. [14] In the EU it can take 10 years or more to obtain approval for a new food additive. This includes five years of safety testing, followed by two years for evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority and another three years before the additive receives an EU-wide approval for use in every country in the European Union. [15] Apart from testing and analyzing food products during the whole production process to ensure safety and compliance with regulatory standards, Trading Standards officers (in the UK) protect the public from any illegal use or potentially dangerous mis-use of food additives by performing random testing of food products. [16]

There has been significant controversy associated with the risks and benefits of food additives. [17] Natural additives may be similarly harmful or be the cause of allergic reactions in certain individuals. For example, safrole was used to flavor root beer until it was shown to be carcinogenic. Due to the application of the Delaney clause, it may not be added to foods, even though it occurs naturally in sassafras and sweet basil. [18]


A subset of food additives, micronutrients added in food fortification processes preserve nutrient value by providing vitamins and minerals to foods such as flour, cereal, margarine and milk which normally would not retain such high levels. [19] Added ingredients, such as air, bacteria, fungi, and yeast, also contribute manufacturing and flavor qualities, and reduce spoilage. [20]

Standardization of its derived products

ISO has published a series of standards regarding the topic and these standards are covered by ICS 67.220. [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

Aspartame chemical compound

Aspartame is an artificial non-saccharide sweetener 200 times sweeter than sucrose, and is commonly used as a sugar substitute in foods and beverages. It is a methyl ester of the aspartic acid/phenylalanine dipeptide with the trade names, NutraSweet, Equal, and Canderel. Aspartame was first made in 1965 and approved for use in food products by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981.

Flavor, flavour, or taste is the perceptual impression of food or other substances, and is determined primarily by the chemical senses of the gustatory and olfactory system. The "trigeminal senses", which detect chemical irritants in the mouth and throat, as well as temperature and texture, are also important to the overall gestalt of flavor perception. The flavor of the food, as such, can be altered with natural or artificial flavorants which affect these senses.

A preservative is a substance or a chemical that is added to products such as food products, beverages, pharmaceutical drugs, paints, biological samples, cosmetics, wood, and many other products to prevent decomposition by microbial growth or by undesirable chemical changes. In general, preservation is implemented in two modes, chemical and physical. Chemical preservation entails adding chemical compounds to the product. Physical preservation entails processes such as refrigeration or drying. Preservative food additives reduce the risk of foodborne infections, decrease microbial spoilage, and preserve fresh attributes and nutritional quality. Some physical techniques for food preservation include dehydration, UV-C radiation, freeze-drying, and refrigeration. Chemical preservation and physical preservation techniques are sometimes combined.

E number code for substances that are used as food additives

E numbers are codes for substances used as food additives for use within the European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Commonly found on food labels, their safety assessment and approval are the responsibility of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Sugar substitute Food additive

A sugar substitute is a food additive that provides a sweet taste like that of sugar while containing significantly less food energy than sugar-based sweeteners, making it a zero-calorie or low-calorie sweetener. Artificial sweeteners may be derived through manufacturing of plant extracts or processed by chemical synthesis. Sugar alcohols such as erythritol, xylitol, and sorbitol are derived from sugars. In 2017, sucralose was the most common sugar substitute used in the manufacture of foods and beverages; it had 30% of the global market, which was projected to be valued at $2.8 billion by 2021.

Food coloring substance that imparts color when it is added to food or drink

Food coloring, or color additive, is any dye, pigment or substance that imparts color when it is added to food or drink. They come in many forms consisting of liquids, powders, gels, and pastes. Food coloring is used both in commercial food production and in domestic cooking. Food colorants are also used in a variety of non-food applications including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, home craft projects, and medical devices.

Disodium inosinate chemical compound

Disodium inosinate (E631) is the disodium salt of inosinic acid with the chemical formula C10H11N4Na2O8P. It is used as a food additive and often found in instant noodles, potato chips, and a variety of other snacks. Although it can be obtained from bacterial fermentation of sugars, it is often commercially prepared.

Sodium cyclamate chemical compound

Sodium cyclamate is an artificial sweetener. It is 30–50 times sweeter than sucrose, making it the least potent of the commercially used artificial sweeteners. It is often used with other artificial sweeteners, especially saccharin; the mixture of 10 parts cyclamate to 1 part saccharin is common and masks the off-tastes of both sweeteners. It is less expensive than most sweeteners, including sucralose, and is stable under heating. Safety concerns have led to cyclamates being banned in the United States and other countries, though the European Union considers them as safe.

Saccharin chemical compound

Sodium saccharin is an artificial sweetener with effectively no food energy. It is about 300–400 times as sweet as sucrose but has a bitter or metallic aftertaste, especially at high concentrations. Saccharin is used to sweeten products such as drinks, candies, cookies, and medicines.

Sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate is a versatile, FDA approved food additive used to improve the mix tolerance and volume of processed foods. It is one type of a commercially available lactylate. SSL is non-toxic, biodegradable, and typically manufactured using biorenewable feedstocks. Because SSL is a safe and highly effective food additive, it is used in a wide variety of products ranging from baked goods and desserts to pet foods.

Sunset Yellow FCF chemical compound

Sunset Yellow FCF is a petroleum-derived orange azo dye with a pH dependent maximum absorption at about 480 nm at pH 1 and 443 nm at pH 13 with a shoulder at 500 nm. When added to foods sold in the United States it is known as FD&C Yellow 6; when sold in Europe, it is denoted by E Number E110.

Brominated vegetable oil former food emulsifier

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is a complex mixture of plant-derived triglycerides that have been reacted to contain atoms of the element bromine bonded to the molecules. Brominated vegetable oil is used primarily to help emulsify citrus-flavored soft drinks, preventing them from separating during distribution. Brominated vegetable oil has been used by the soft drink industry since 1931, generally at a level of about 8 ppm.

Food processing Transformation of raw ingredients into food, or of food into other forms

Food processing is the transformation of agricultural products into food, or of one form of food into other forms. Food processing includes many forms of processing foods, from grinding grain to make raw flour to home cooking to complex industrial methods used to make convenience foods.

Neotame chemical compound

Neotame, also known by the trade name Newtame, is a non-caloric artificial sweetener and aspartame analog by NutraSweet. By mass, it is 8000 times sweeter than sucrose. It has no notable off-flavors when compared to sucrose. It enhances original food flavors. It can be used alone, but is often mixed with other sweeteners to increase their individual sweetness and decrease their off-flavors. It is chemically somewhat more stable than aspartame. Its use can be cost effective in comparison to other sweeteners as smaller amounts of neotame are needed.

Sodium erythorbate chemical compound

Sodium erythorbate (C6H7NaO6) is a food additive used predominantly in meats, poultry, and soft drinks. Chemically, it is the sodium salt of erythorbic acid. When used in processed meat such as hot dogs and beef sticks, it increases the rate at which nitrite reduces to nitric oxide, thus facilitating a faster cure and retaining the pink coloring. As an antioxidant structurally related to vitamin C, it helps improve flavor stability and prevents the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines. When used as a food additive, its E number is E316. The use of erythorbic acid and sodium erythorbate as a food preservative has increased greatly since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of sulfites as preservatives in foods intended to be eaten fresh (such as ingredients for fresh salads) and as food processors have responded to the fact that some people are allergic to sulfites. It can also be found in bologna, and is occasionally used in beverages, baked goods, and potato salad.

Natural foods

Natural foods and all-natural foods are widely used terms in food labeling and marketing with a variety of definitions, most of which are vague. The term is often assumed to imply foods that are not processed and whose ingredients are all natural products, thus conveying an appeal to nature. But the lack of standards in most jurisdictions means that the term assures nothing. In some countries, the term "natural" is defined and enforced. In others, such as the United States, it is not enforced.

Caramel color water soluble food coloring

Caramel color or caramel coloring is a water-soluble food coloring. It is made by heat treatment of carbohydrates (sugars), in general in the presence of acids, alkalis, or salts, in a process called caramelization. It is more fully oxidized than caramel candy, and has an odor of burnt sugar and a somewhat bitter taste. Its color ranges from pale yellow to amber to dark brown.

Calcium stearoyl-2-lactylate or E482 is a versatile, FDA approved food additive. It is one type of a commercially available lactylate. CSL is non-toxic, biodegradable, and typically manufactured using biorenewable feedstocks. Because CSL is a safe and highly effective food additive, it is used in a wide variety of products from baked goods and desserts to packaging.

The Food Chemicals Codex (FCC) is a collection of internationally recognized standards for the purity and identity of food ingredients. It features roughly 1,200 monographs, including food-grade chemicals, processing aids, foods, flavoring agents, vitamins, and functional food ingredients. The FCC also contains ingredients, such as sucrose and essential oils, that are not frequently found in other food additive standards resources.


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